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text 2017-10-18 17:32
What we get wrong about the military history of the Civil War, and why it's relevant today
Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations - Howard Jones

Lately I've been groping toward one of those revelations that may be obvious to some but is incredibly illuminating of some of the problems in our country today, which is that we focus on the wrong things when it comes to the military history of the Civil War.

 

This is something that I've come to appreciate only gradually. When I was growing up what I knew about the Civil War was defined by the literature generated by the centenary of the conflict, during which authors such as Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote wrote highly readable (and still widely read) series about the conflict. These books generally concentrated on the war in the eastern theater, where the Armies of the Potomac and Northern Virginia butted heads for four years before the Union forces finally ground down the Confederate Army. This is where most of the memorable battles (First Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg) were fought, and where some of the most recognizable names served. This conception stayed with me though high school (surviving even my largely uninformed reading of James McPherson's classic book on the era) and up through college, though more through lack of reexamination than anything else.

 

It wasn't until I read Brian Holden Reid's short study of the major wars of the mid-19th century that I began to appreciate how misguided I have been. Reid pointed out something that seemed so obvious in retrospect, which is that, contrary to the narrative of a conflict that was decided only with the defeat of Robert E. Lee in Virginia, the war was really won by the Union much earlier, through the effective adoption of Winfield's Scott's proposal to economically strangle the South with a combination of blockade and control of the Mississippi River. Focusing the war on this aspect of it change the conceptualization of the war dramatically, from one in which Union generals are continually outmatched by the military genius of Robert E. Lee to one where the Union asserts a steadily growing dominance over the South over the course of the war, while the Confederacy increasingly finds itself in a struggle it cannot win.

 

Given this, I've come to appreciate just how skewed our focus of the war is in the popular imagination. This has its origins in the war itself, as the eastern theater was better covered in the press, which highlighted the clash of the two armies and their respective efforts to capture the other side's capitals. In the process, though, they understated three other aspects which were decisive to the war's outcome: the fighting in the "west" (i.e. the Ohio and Mississippi Review valleys), the U.S. Navy's blockade of the South, and the diplomatic aspects of the war. Perhaps it's understandable why these didn't get more attention at the time -- the naval blockade was grindingly dull for the most part, and the diplomatic developments were largely behind the scenes -- but it was those parts of it which determined the fate of our nation, and where we should be focusing our attention when we study it now.

 

That we have focused both then and afterward on the more narratively exciting aspects of the war is one of the reasons why our popular understanding of the war has been so mistaken. There's another factor that I think is at play, though, which makes my relatively esoteric point here relevant -- our misguided focus on the eastern theater has contributed to the romanticization of the "lost cause" of the Confederacy. By focusing so much attention upon the one theater where the Confederate forces performed the best, we have exaggerated the viability of the Confederacy and made its defeat seem more tragic as a result. That Southerners then and their descendants since have done this is perhaps understandable, but that we continue to do this more generally is inexcusable. It's hardly the only, or even primary reason why we have neo-Confederates running around today refusing to accept the outcome of what was largely a doomed effort from the start, but it certainly doesn't help.

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review 2017-10-17 04:03
Beneath a Scarlet Sky
Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel - Mark T. Sullivan

5 stars for story

4 stars for narration

4.5 stars overall

 

I loved this. It's easily the best thing that has come out of Amazon Kindle First ever, and I'm so glad I picked it up. 

 

This is a "novel" only because the author wasn't able to verify all the facts of the story that Pino Lella told him about his time in Italy during the last two years of the war. As it explains in the foreword, a lot of documents were "lost" after the war, and many people who lived through it chose not to talk about it and simply let it fade into history. Being unable to 100% verify every detail, the author decided to call it a novel, but it is a biography. 

 

As such, I can't really critique this the same way I normally would any other story. These are real people and real events. There's no ultimate struggle of good vs evil (well, there is but as we all know, humans are complicated and things aren't always so black and white) and there are no tropes to rely on or subvert. This is just what happened, and it's both inspiring and infuriating. 

 

Without giving too much away - and assuming you're not a WWII history buff and might know some of these details already - Pino Lella was seventeen when the war came to Italy, and in order to avoid being conscripted and forced to fight on the German front in Poland, where many Italians pressed into service were losing their lives, he instead "volunteered" to work for Operation Todt. All he knew about it was that it was less likely to get him killed and would keep him off the warfront. Things don't go as planned and he ends up in a prime position to work for the resistance, getting them valuable information that helped the Allied invasion. 

 

For the first third of the book, things move pretty slowly. Pino is at first hidden in the mountains near the Switzerland border and helps refugees escape over the border. When his parents bring him back to Milan, things start to pick up and slowly get more complicated. And yet, things seem to almost go too well. Then the end of the war is in sight, and that's when things really hit the fan. The writing in the last third is especially strong and emotive, and I really had to work not to cry in the car as I listened to this on my daily commute. 

 

As for the narrator, Will Damron, he takes the Kevin Costner approach to accents. I would honestly have no accent at all than to listen to a really horrible Italian accent, so I wasn't bothered by this. He does do a decent German accent though. He's very clear and easy to follow along with, and he reads at a good pace. At first, his narration was almost matter-of-fact, but he can really bring the emotions when it's called for. I would say for the most part, he's a 3 star narrator, but the ending was strong enough to bump it up to 4 stars. (And he's certainly popular with audiobooks, so he has his fans.)

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review 2017-10-15 23:53
A VIEW OF WOMEN'S ROLES IN WWII GERMANY
World War II German Women's Auxiliary Services - Gordon Williamson

This book provides a comprehensive view of the varieties of uniforms and badges that were worn by German women who served in a variety of roles in the German Army, Navy, Luftwaffe (air force), SS, and civilian sectors during the Second World War.   

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review 2017-10-13 16:17
The Diary of a Young Girl / Anne Frank
The Diary of a Young Girl - B.M. Mooyaart,Eleanor Roosevelt,Anne Frank

I finally got around to reading this heart-warming and heart-wrenching document.  I attempted it as a much younger person and didn’t get very far, perhaps because I was a teenager myself with my own angst to deal with. 

 

There’s no doubt that Anne was right about her own writing abilities.  If she had lived, I think she definitely had a chance to become a significant author.  She could have edited her own diaries to begin with and perhaps written more about the Jewish experience during WWII.

 

I think her father (the only surviving member of those concealed in the Annex) was a brave man to allow her journals to be published.  He and his wife do not always come out of them looking good.  However, we, as readers, are continually reminded that the people confined in this small space are bound to clash with one another repeatedly.  Imagine having no space to truly call your own, having to share cooking & food supplies, not having easy access to a toilet and not being able to flush during certain hours, and having to be quiet during the workday so as not to alert the employees working below them!  Prisoners in jails have better living conditions!

 

I am also impressed by the courageous Dutch folk who hid their Jewish friends and kept them supplied with the necessities of life for so long.  That’s a big commitment and they fulfilled it for two years with very few glitches (health problems for all of them sometimes made for erratic food delivery).  How many of us would have the fortitude and the bravery to attempt such a feat?

 

The saddest part of the book was definitely the afterword—Anne’s last entry is absolutely ordinary (in an extraordinary circumstance) and then they are betrayed and sent to concentration camps.  They had lasted so long and the end of the war was just a year away (although they had no way to know that).  I was left with the melancholy question of what might have been.

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review 2017-10-12 22:01
The Last Veterans of World War II: Portraits and Memories
The Last Veterans of World War II: Portraits and Memories - Richard Bell
This is an amazing book honoring a few of our heroes from World War ll. The diversity inside these pages speaks volumes as we hear from men and women who fought for America in a variety of positions such as officers, nurses, pilots, engineers, technicians, shipfitters and serviceman (just to name a few). I enjoyed how the novel was laid out. Beginning each veteran’s story is a head-shot photograph which is then followed by a short story about that individual and his experience in the war. On the second page is another photograph, a simple and important photo of the veteran’s hand holding his service photograph from the war. I loved looking at these photographs, what a beautiful way to display the element of time and history. As I examined these photographs, their eyes glaring back at me, I thought about the stories those eyes held inside them. For what these individuals experienced and lived, their eyes knew it all.
 
I could tell you about many of the stories that I read but I will just highlight a few that caught my attention. I read about Harlan whose secret mission was to deliver atomic bomb components. After their successful delivery, his unit was hit by torpedo’s and their ship was going down. For four days, Harlan and over three hundred of his men floated in the water, waiting for assistance. Fighting off sharks and staying together to stay alive, they waited. Not everyone made it back safely. Then, there was the story of George who faced his fears in 2000 when he revisited Germany. Battling PTSD, George revisited the places where he had once stood, fighting in the war. George was looking for closure. The story of Ben hit home with me. Ben had been captured and had been forced to march with other prisoners, abuse and death occurring on their way. The Japanese fighters told their prisoners that they were not Prisoners of War but that they were captives. Treated worse than an animal, Ben was a sole survivor when he returned home. Ben also told the story of “The Hell Ships” which was something I hadn’t read about before. There are a few individuals in the novel who didn’t have much to say about their experience. I appreciate their privacy as this war was an emotional and troubling experience to live through.
 
My father-in-law was a POW during WWll and I have listened to many of his stories about this time in his life. He was there in the Battle of the Bulge, he walked many miles to some undetermined destination only to have to turn around and walk back, he ate out of many frozen gardens and the many incidents of what he saw, smelled and heard, I cannot fathom. He was a survivor just like the individuals in this fantastic novel and I thank each one of them for their service. This novel tells the stories of individuals that should be heard and their stories appreciated. I highly recommend this novel and I can’t wait to obtain my own copy.
 
I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley and Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. in exchange for an honest review. Thank you both for sharing this novel with me and thank you to Richard Bell for bringing these veterans stories to others.
 
https://www.facebook.com/richardbellphoto/?hc_ref=ARTDbk6_WzbMIfNFxq5tV38Vqc0In9-f4iTI2EGMnYvNpSXs4xQ7uWiM0KoU0EcqzX4 https://www.facebook.com/schifferpublishing/

 

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